TORRINGTON — The fallout from the 2015 earthquake in Nepal may not be entirely visible to this day. Two 7.0-plus-magnitude earthquakes struck Nepal, killing more than 8,500 people and injuring about 21,000. But those with injuries that were left untreated or treated with subpar medicine continued to suffer since the natural disaster.
These are the ailments that Dr. Jennifer D’Amico’s team sought to alleviate during a recent annual trek to the Far-Eastern country in order to treat long-term injuries from the quake. D’Amico of Litchfield Hills Orthopedic Associates (with offices in Torrington and Bristol), who went in April to Kathmandu’s Nepal Orthopedic Hospital, performed 25 surgeries and screened 75 patients (35 who were children) for such conditions as clubfoot, arthritis, and flatfoot over the course of five days.
D’Amico was part of a 12-member volunteer medical team with Healing the Children, a charitable organization treating children in underserved countries. The group offered care and surgery free of cost to patients.
“There were foot and ankle deformations and trauma that we treated,” said D’Amico from the Associates’ Torrington office at 245 Alvord Park Road. “There had been a lot of broken bones from the earthquake, exacerbated by road traffic.” Many people use bicycles in the city.
“Deformities that don’t heal correctly and arthritis is not usually a priority in hospitals there,” she said. “Polio was eradicated in Nepal four years ago but there are people affected by it.”
April’s trek had been D’Amico’s seventh trip through the organization since 2010. D’Amico’s original trip, organized through Healing the Children’s Southern California chapter, had been funded substantially through an online GoFundMe campaign. She said a mentor, Dr. Steven Miller of Anacortes, Washington, had seen a spark in her. He had proposed that D’Amico join his medical team to Nepal. D’Amico said, “I thought to myself, ‘This is an opportunity that I can’t pass up.’” She was joined recently by esteemed colleagues Dr. Miller, Dr. Thomas Chang of Santa Rosa, California, and Dr. Carl Kihm of MedShare in Decatur, Georgia.
So D’Amico, an East Coast native, journeyed to the exotic country with a storied history. Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, has a total population of roughly five million people, many of Hindu culture. The average springtime temperature in the city hovers in the 40s, despite the sub-tropical climate. Building structures and iconic temples collapsed during the earthquakes, but notable sites in the city include a fifth-century Hindu temple and the Boudhanath building. Kathmandu was one Nepali city that also recently went from being a monarchy to a democracy. Following the country served as a buffer state between Imperial China and Colonial India for years and after parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1951, the Nepalese Civil War in the 1990s and early 2000s eventually resulted in the proclamation of a secular republic in 2008.
Not that D’Amico would have a chance to see too much of the city, with her non-stop schedule of foot surgeries. As a podiatrist, she spent most of the time diagnosing and treating debilitating conditions affecting Nepali citizens’ foot, ankle, and related leg structures. “We scrub in together with the Nepali doctors,” she said. “The Nepali doctors translate and we teach them. We also leave donated supplies, like hardware and dressings.”
D’Amico treated many families with small children during her medical visits to the region. Of her Nepali patients, she said, “At the end of the day, if you walk better, you can go to work. The average Nepali makes three to five dollars a day. So if you are working, then there is more rice or dal (a type of lentil).”
D’Amico received her medical degree at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine in New York, completing her residency in podiatric surgery at Scripps Mercy Hospital and Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Diego, California. D’Amico also completed a fellowship in limb lengthening and reconstruction at The Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. She also studied surgical trauma during a fellowship at Inselspital University of Bern in Bern, Switzerland.
After serving as a private-practice podiatric surgeon for several years, D’Amico then served as an assistant professor at the College of Podiatric Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.
In Nepal, often the surgeries are held in a tent. “We are operating on arthritis patients who are finally having surgery. One surgery we do is an arthrodesis, a fusion of a joint to the bones.” She added, “We see a lot of children with foot issues.”
Carol Borneman, national administrator for Healing the Children, said the organization typically sends 100 doctors nationally on 20 trips per year, the trips funded by the medical teams themselves. The organization’s mission statement envisions children with access to medical care, regardless of ability to pay, insurance status, or physical location. The organization notes that an estimated one billion people worldwide have never nor will ever be able to consult or be treated by a health care professional of any kind.
“Everyone from plastic surgeons to anesthesiologists recruit their own members as lead doctors. The trip is for four to five days, typically. All teams pay their own way and donate their services.” Healing the Children’s surgical teams treated 3,753 children under 18 during medical trips in 2016. A surgical team consists of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and operating room/recovery nurses. Volunteers also help to gather donations of supplies for the missions.
Borneman said she has been with Healing the Children for 24 years, compiling statistics and ensuring compliance among the organization’s various 16 national chapters from the Spokane, Washington, office. “What drew me to the program were the founding doctors,” she said. “We started with one child in Guatemala in 1979. Now, 270,000 children later, the program is still going.” She said 95 countries are served and the organization has raised $700 million of medical services in donated time and supplies.
After returning from her medical trips to Nepal, D’Amico said she often hears from former Nepali patients. “One of my first patients in 2010 was Sarvana,” she said. “She was 12. Now she is 20 years old and wants to be a doctor herself.” She added that the last time she was in Nepal she had lunch with Sarvana and saw the former patient’s children.
On how volunteering in Healing the Children organization, D’Amico said, “One lives in one’s own bubble in one’s life. Then you talk to someone in a different world. To help people in Nepal is a doctor’s dream. When I go there, I feel home.”
She said, “You are working your butt off, seeing more than 70 patients. It may seem quaint and funny but one gets a strange sense of peace and harmony helping people who appreciate what you are doing.” She mentioned that children had been saying “Namaste” to her from their wheelchairs. She added, “It is a huge moment if you can give to others and leave a mark on the world.”